Toronto, Calgary Catholics join Sask. in fundraising drive for residential school survivors

Catholics in two of Canada's largest cities are resurrecting their fundraising efforts for residential school survivors. They join Saskatchewan's five bishops, who made a similar announcement two weeks ago.

Catholic groups pledge to resurrect 2005 campaign that raised only a fraction of the $25 million goal

Toronto and Calgary bishops are reviving fundraising efforts for residential school survivors. They join Saskatchewan bishops who made a similar announcement two weeks ago. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Catholics in two of Canada's largest cities are resurrecting their fundraising efforts for residential school survivors.

They join five bishops from Saskatchewan who made a similar announcement two weeks ago.

First Nations leaders and residential school survivors say the move is a positive step and they're confident every bishop in Canada will agree to contribute.

"It's not about the money," said Frank Badger, a member of Mistawasis Nehiyawak, located roughly 72 kilometres west of Prince Albert, Sask. who attended St. Michael's Catholic residential school in Duck Lake, Sask.

"For these people in Toronto and elsewhere, they are acknowledging the wrong that's been done at the schools. They're also acknowledging they were wrong to stop fundraising. I'm glad they're admitting that."

In 2005, the Catholic church and other parties signed the landmark 2005 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. 

Aside from an initial cash payment of $29 million and $25 million worth of in-kind services, Catholic groups promised to give their "best efforts" to raise another $25 million.

Less than $4 million has been raised before the campaign was aborted.

St. Philip's Catholic residential school survivor Madeleine Whitehawk talks with Regina Roman Catholic Archbishop Don Bolen at last week's survivor gathering at the Cote First Nation. Whitehawk and others demanded Canadian Catholic groups fundraise the full $25 million promised in 2005, release all residential school documents and get Pope Francis to apologize on Canadian soil. (Jason Warick/CBC)

In emailed statements to CBC News, the dioceses of Toronto and Calgary said they'll have full details of a campaign by September. Saskatchewan bishops already have a website accepting donations, but will also release more details in September.

"This expresses the commitment of the Diocese to the ongoing work of justice and healing in our country with the Indigenous Peoples and their communities," read the statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary.

A Toronto official confirmed "we plan to conduct a campaign in the Archdiocese of Toronto." The official said the planning will include consultations with Indigenous leaders.

Kinstin First Nation Chief Felix Thomas welcomed the announcements of the Toronto and Calgary dioceses.

"Its certainly promising," said Thomas, who helped lead a failed effort to bring Pope Francis to Saskatchewan for an apology several years ago.

"Let's give the Saskatchewan bishops credit for starting it, but I'm glad it's not left to them to do all the heavy lifting. Every part of the country has to reconcile."

Elder Frank Badger, 71, was forced to attend St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask. from 1955 to 1965. He welcomed the renewed survivor fundraising effort by Toronto and Calgary Catholic groups. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Thomas and others said the campaign must be substantial and transparent. Thomas said "paying this fine" is one step of many required.

Other Catholic diocese appear close to joining.

Ottawa-Cornwall Archbishop Marcel Damphousse said on the archdiocese website he is speaking with Indigenous ministry members and is "working on some additional actions I hope to be able to announce soon."

Critics note Catholic dioceses have devoted hundreds of millions to cathedral and church construction and renovation during this period. They also note the other churches involved in the settlement - United, Anglican, Presbyterian - paid their full shares years ago.

The Catholic church has come under renewed scrutiny this summer following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked or undocumented graves at Catholic residential school sites in Kamloops, Cowessess First Nation and elsewhere.

There have been calls to revoke the church's tax-free status or boycott church services until the full $25 million is paid.

One of the church's own priests told CBC News the church's initial fundraising effort was "pitiful," while one legal academic said the Catholic church used "legal trickery" to  escape paying the full amount.